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Saga Schumacher is far from over

Last updated on: April 19, 2010 16:30 IST

When 'Schumacher' got me to the stadium

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Raja Sen

Four years ago, during a relatively torrential weekend in Shanghai, I jumped into a taxicab, and, handicapped by complete Mandarin ignorance, found myself in quite the conundrum. The thing about the remarkably efficient Chinese cabmen is that once you flash them an address, they nod their head firmly and get you right to the doorstep, as if it was all written right there, in those 4-6 characters, in longitude and latitude.

My problem was that I didn't presently have such an address. Wanting to go to the Shanghai International Circuit on the weekend of the race, I assumed, would be as easy as getting into a cab and saying 'F1'. (Rookie mistake, by the way, the Chinese use an 'e' sound instead of 1, so you'd be better served saying 'FE'. Now you know.) Anyway, I said 'racing', 'stadium', 'car racing', all accompanied by frantic steering-wheel gestures. No go, and I met a blank stare.

After 'vroom vroom' didn't work, I randomly took a German man's last name, the cabbie's eyes lit up, he repeated it back to me, and presto! We were at the circuit just in time to see the clouds clear up.


Image: Michael Schumacher enters the Ferrari paddock in 2006
Photographs: Reuters
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He won the rain-soaked 2006 Chinese GP in style

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Like all nations who do not yet have their own motorsport legacy, China embraced Ferrari with open arms. It probably didn't hurt that the team's red and yellow matched their own flag.

And that German fellow with a password for a name had just announced his retirement, which is largely why I, and thousands others, had gone to see him in action. The 2006 race was a wet one, and after Qualifying in sixth place, he gave us all what we wanted, a barnstormer in the deluge, riding the rain and overtaking all the frontrunners to take a truly magnificent victory.

That was win 91, a full 40 wins more than second place man and four-time World Champion Alain Prost, the legendary professor. To put things in perspective, double world champion Fernando Alonso, racing for a decade now, has 22 wins. Jenson Button, defending champion and current leader of the standings, after winning two races this year already, has 9.


Image: Michael Schumacher

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He has been outraced by Rosberg this season

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At Shanghai this year, however, Schumacher was caught out. The rain had always been an ally for the master, but now, pursued by relentless young superstars in faster machines, he found himself beaten, shoved aside and overtaken right until the very end, a possible podium finish reduced to a mere one point.

It is not enough to blame Mercedes GP, or luck, for Michael's 24-year-old partner Nico Rosberg came in and took third place. The simple truth is that Schumacher, in four races this season, has been outqualified and outraced by a younger, less experienced driver. By the benchmark Michael has set, he has been unimpressive, and he looks to be struggling.

It was never going to be easy, of course. We all expected him to be a little shaky and then, only then, show the young turks what the best ever can do, to put them in their places. We expected Michael at 41 - nineteen years older than this year's most impressive driver Sebastien Vettel - to come in and bully Lewis Hamilton and scuttle Fernando Alonso's hopes with effortless ease and strategic masterstrokes, aided by longtime collaborator Ross Brawn on the pit wall.


Image: Fans of Schumacher hold a banner at the Chinese F1 Grand Prix in Shanghai on Sunday

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Schumacher saga is full of drama

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It's his fault, for those that deliver the impossible make us expect more of it. Yet the Schumacher saga has - despite the earlier part of this decade, despite the five back-to-back titles from 2000-2004 - not been a saga of domination, but of drama. Of a man constantly pushed and one who has responded, each time.

That he was a spectacular talent was apparent right from the 1991 start, qualifying a miraculous seventh in his first race and finishing fifth in his second. He drove six races that year, taking his first victory in 92 and watching Prost and Damon Hill dominate '93. '94 and '95 were Schumacher years, despite race-bans and calls of controversy.

Just when it began to be apparent that here was a driver programmed only to win, he left the dominating Benetton team to go join the decidedly midfield team of Ferrari, who had last won a world championship back in 1979.


Image: Michael Schumacher

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Schumi built a team around himself at Ferrari

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We all know how Schumacher dug his heels in and built a team around himself at Ferrari. In '96, his debut season for the prancing horse, he won three races. In the five years before that, the team had won two.

He took the race to Jacques Villeneuve's Williams in 1997, but pushed himself over the line and crashed into Villeneuve, prompting a disqualification from the championship and victory for the Williams. In '98, top Finnish driver Mika Hakkinen stormed the title for McLaren, winning again in '99 after Schumacher broke his leg at the British GP and missed six races.

Yet Michael came back, qualified on pole straight out of the box, and took the role of No 2 driver to aid Eddie Irvine, who eventually lost to the Finn by two points. Ferrari, however, had their first Constructor's Championship in 16 years.


Image: Michael Schumacher

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He eclipsed the greats victory after victory

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By then, the team he built around him got its act spectacularly together, and after slugging it out for a year and winning a rough battle with Hakkinen in 2000, the scarlet sovereignty began.

Records tumbled constantly as he eclipsed the greats and the press started complaining that he was making Formula 1 too boring by winning too much. Then in 2005 and 2006, he was beaten by Fernando Alonso in the Renault, and at the end of the latter year, he decided to bow out.

Last year, he almost came back for Ferrari again, in one of those seemingly divine gestures that separate the supermen from the men. His neck didn't allow him, and - in a moment that tinged elation with heartbreak and consternation for a tribe of Ferrari supporters, a generation of whom he had personally created - he chose to come back this year, putting his legacy on the line, and wearing the white and silver overalls of Mercedes Grand Prix.


Image: Michael Schumacher

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Schumi's in it for the battle

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It is about drama. Epics always are. It will be arduous and rough and bleak and devastating, but that's just the way this soft-spoken, merciless gentleman likes climbing his mountains. And that's just why he's back, climbing another, one perhaps steeper than ever. It might take a year, or even three, but he's in it for the battle.

Cue that undying Rocky theme music. If you are indeed a fan of the racer, the man or even just a follower of the story - for it is that which makes the sport - then brace yourself, for he isn't done anytime soon.

Believe, I'd tell you, but that's redundant. For whenever it is that he scales that top step, when he uncorks bottle '92, marking as many victories as Prost and Senna combined, and when he winks that wink into the television camera, we'll all see.


Image: Michael Schumacher (right) signs autographs for a fan in Shanghai

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